ANGER has erupted after it was revealed passengers could soon be asked to spend 50p – just to find out when the next bus is coming.
Council bosses have been attacked by commuter groups outraged that timetables may soon disappear from bus stops in Fylde and Wyre, and adverts put in place directing travellers towards a premium rate telephone number.
Calls made to the 0871 Traveline service via a mobile phone can cost up to 50p per minute.
Lancashire County Council, which covers Fylde and Wyre, is considering the controversial move as part of massive budget cuts.
The move could save around £100,000 of the £205m cutbacks the council needs to find by 2014.
But the plan was today slammed by community leaders who say it will leave older residents feeling isolated and alone, especially those in rural areas.
Tony Ward, chairman of Wyre Senior Forum, told The Gazette: “This decision is being made with little regard to elderly passengers and people without mobile phones.
“The savings of £100,000 are a direct cut to the accessibility of public transport services, particularly for older people.
“Elderly passengers waiting at a bus stop with no timetable and no phone will find themselves completely nonplussed.
“In many cases bus users have to walk a fair distance to get to their closest stop, they cannot simply walk back home to ring the number, the council has a responsibility to look after these people.
“One of the most common complaints we have from older people is the feeling of isolation and if public transport becomes less accessible it’s another step towards that.”
The proposed changes do not affect Blackpool, but there are around 7,500 bus stops in Lancashire and County Hall previously provided information timetables for around half of them.
It will continue to put them in around 1,000 stops county-wide and says it will ensure information is provided on posters at bus stations, town centre stops, main bus stops and via the internet, text messages, mobile internet and Traveline.
But Singleton councillor Maxine Chew, of Fylde Council, said she was horrified. She said: “I’m disgusted by the behaviour of the council – it’s disgraceful.
“When these type of decisions are made the elderly are always the ones that are punished or ignored – it is just not right.
“The fact the council removed certain bus services is bad enough but to have a bus service without providing the information to the people who use them is ridiculous.”
Coun Chew, who campaigned to save the WyldeFyre bus which served residents in villages in Wyre and Fylde before it was scrapped last year, said making buses less accessible would lead to more services being scrapped.
She added: “It is utterly wrong and the person in charge of this is being cruel to the elderly, it is thoughtless in the extreme.
“It will also discourage people to use the buses. Is this a ploy to make more reductions to bus services on the Fylde coast?”
A County Hall spokesman said the authority would only remove the timetables as and when bus operators change services.
Tim Ashton, cabinet member for highways and transport, added: “We had to make some budget savings and part of that is to reduce paper timetables at bus stops.
“We have previously gone to bus companies and asked them to look at the situation because we don’t think it’s right the taxpayers of Lancashire pay for the timetables.
“Now we are in negotiations with them, they are private companies who make a profit, 80 per cent of bus services are commercial, they should fund some of these timetables.
“We had to make some tough decisions to protect front line services and spend £133m less on management and administration over the next three years.
“We are continuing to invest in public transport in Lancashire and spend £7m a year to subsidise just over 100 buses carrying 5.3m passenger journeys.”
A call to the premium 0871 Traveline number costs 10p per minute on top of standard mobile network charges – which are between 30p and 40p per minute – while texts cost 25p on top of the usual rate.
The council says it will not receive any of the proceeds from calls or texts.
Stagecoach, which run bus services across the county, were unavailable for comment.